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The Quebec sovereignty movement is a movement calling for the attainment of sovereignty for Quebec, a province of the country of Canada. It has been and remains to this day, a minority group.
The sovereigntists allege that Quebecers have the right to self-determination and therefore the right to democratically make the Province of Quebec a separate and independent nation from the rest of Canada. The net effect of their goal is to split the country into four separate parts: Labrador, Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces, and Ontario through to British Columbia plus the northern territories.
With a sovereign state, Quebec sovereigntists believe that the people of Quebec will be better equipped to foster their own economic, social, and cultural development. Quebec sovereigntists are generally not in opposition to federalism as a concept, but are opposed to the present federal system of Canada and do not believe it can be reformed in a way that could answer what sovereigntists view as to how Quebec should govern itself.
The idea of sovereignty for Quebec is based, according to its proponents, on the historical and sociological evidence that Quebecers are a people and a political nation, that they have democratic control over a state of their own, but that inside the Canadian federation as it currently stands, this state does not have the constitutional powers needed by the Quebec government to be the normal national government of all Quebecers. Sovereignists claim that within Canada, the national policies of Quebec clash with the national policies of the federal government. Sovereignists further state that in thir opinion the various attempts at changing the federal system of Canada have thus far failed due, theyu claim, to the conflicting interests between the majority of Quebecers and the majority of Canadians (see Constitutional debate of Canada).
The United Nations does not recognize the sovereigntists claim to the right to self-determination for Quebec and follows legal principles which allows independence for colonial peoples or only for those whose territory is the subject of foreign occupation. And, present-day international law does not guarantee any specific territorial rights to linguistic, ethnic or religious minorities. In Reference re Secession of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada advised that the right to a unilateral declaration of independence is not recognized as being applicable to Quebec under Canadian or international law; however, the court also noted that nothing prevented a province from negotiating secession: "It is recognized that there is no right under the Constitution of Canada to effect the secession of a province from Canada unilaterally and that, therefore, an amendment to the Constitution of Canada would be required for any province to secede from Canada, which in turn would require negotiations involving at least the governments of all of the provinces and the government of Canada."
The Clarity Act legislation was passed by the Parliament of Canada to give effect to the opinion in the Quebec Secession Reference rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada on August 20, 1998. Under the Clarity Act, the federal government laid down the terms under which it would agree to negotiate the outcome of a referendum by any Canadian province. Two of the conditions set out by the act are a clear majority of voters responding to a clear referendum question. A "clear majority" is not defined in the legislation, but is widely believed to entail significantly more than "50% + 1" of the vote. The government of the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois in Quebec responded with its own act, symbolic legislation titled an legislation, stating that it would regard 50% + 1 as sufficient majority for a mandate to begin negotiations.
Although it is primarily a political question, the sovereigntists claim cultural concerns are also at the root of their desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereigntists is that only citizenship for Quebec can adequately and permanently resolve the difficult issue of the language of the majority (Quebec French), allow Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive.
Main article: Sovereignty-Association Movement
The sovereigntist movement of Quebec is generally considered to have started in the 1960s with the Quiet Revolution. The use of the word "sovereignty" and many of the ideas of this movement originated in the 1967 Sovereignty-Association Movement of René Lévesque. This movement ultimately gave birth to the Parti Québécois in 1968.
Sovereignty-Association (French: Souveraineté-Association) is the combination of two concepts:
- The achievement of sovereignty for the Quebec state
- The creation of a political and economic association between this new independent state and Canada.
It was first presented in Lévesque's political manifesto, Option Québec.
The Parti Québécois defines sovereignty as the power for a state to levy all its taxes, vote on all its laws and sign all its treaties (as mentioned in the 1980 referendum question).
The type of association between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada was described as a monetary and customs union as well as joint political institutions to administer the relations between the two countries. The main inspiration for this project was the then emerging European Community. However, the sovereigntists proposal for an undefined "association" with the rest of Canada had no legitimate basis because the Referendum was limited to only those Canadians residing in the Province of Quebec.
The hyphen between the words "sovereignty" and "association" was often stressed by Lévesque and other PQ members, to make it clear that both were inseparable. The reason stated was that if Canada decided to boycott Quebec exports after voting for independence, the new country would have to go through difficult economic times, as the barriers to trade between Canada (including Quebec) and the USA were very high. Quebec would have been a nation of 7 million people stuck between two inpenetrable protectionist countries.
After the signing of the free trade agreement between the USA and Canada, the sovereignty-associationists revisited their option, and the need for an association with the rest of Canada was made optional. That is, an association with Canada is still wished for, but were it to fail, sovereignty would be economically viable because Quebec can (and currently does) freely export to the US market. At the present, PQ members and outside supporters will often speak of 'sovereignty' alone.
Those in favour of independence vacillate between terming it "sovereignty" and "independence," but the two terms are considered to be synonymous. A small group of people prefer "independence" over the other term. They are often stigmatized for this choice. The use of the term "Sovereignty-Association" is a lot less frequent, but is still heard (refer to the Modernization section below).
Quebec federalist nationalists think that the Quebec people should be recognized as a de facto nation by the federal government of Canada and initiate the constitutional reforms that presuppose such a recognition. Their position is often so close to that of some moderate Quebec sovereigntists that many have jumped the fence both ways (former Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard and Quebec lawyer Guy Bertrand are well-known examples of this). A great proportion of Quebec sovereigntist politicians were formerly in the reformist camp of the greater liberal family before joining the MSA or later the PQ.
Main article: History of the Quebec independence movement
Precursor ideas and events
See: Quebec nationalism
Sovereigntism and sovereignty are terms that refer to the modern movement in favour of the political independence of Quebec. However, the roots of Quebec's desire for self-determination can be traced further back, to the Alliance Laurentienne of 1957, the writings of Lionel Groulx in the 1920s, the Francoeur Motion of 1917, the flirtation of Honoré Mercier with this idea (especially in his historic speech of 1893), and for a few of the supporters of "Lower Canada Rebellion" of 1837.
Political controversies around language and culture in early post-Confederation Canada, such as the Manitoba Schools Question, Ontario's Regulation 17, the Conscription Crisis and the execution of Metis leader Louis Riel following his trial and conviction, also created significant resentment in Quebec, in turn feeding the emerging nationalist movement.
The Quiet Revolution of Quebec brought widespread change in the 1960s. Among other changes, support for Quebec independence began to form and grow in some circles. The first organization dedicated to the independence of Quebec was the Alliance Laurentienne, founded by Raymond Barbeau on January 25, 1957.
On September 10, 1960 the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale (RIN) was founded. On August 9 of the same year, the Action socialiste pour l'indépendance du Québec (ASIQ) was formed by Raoul Roy. On October 31, 1962, the Comité de libération nationale and in November of the same year, the Réseau de résistance were setup. These two groups were formed by RIN members to organize non-violent but illegal actions, such as vandalism and civil disobedience. Shortly after the November 14, 1962, Quebec general election, RIN member Marcel Chaput founded the short-lived Parti républicain du Québec.
In 1964, the RIN became a provincial political party. In 1965 the more conservative Ralliement national (RN) also became a party.
The historical context of the time was a period when many former European colonies, such as Cameroon, Congo, Senegal, Algeria, Jamaica etc., were becoming independent. Some advocates of Quebec independence naturally saw Quebec's situation in a similar light. Numerous activists were influenced by the writings of Franz Fanon and Karl Marx and for many, Cuba was seen as the new ideal.
Finally, in October 1967 former Liberal cabinet minister René Lévesque left that party when it refused to discuss sovereignty at a party convention. Lévesque formed the Mouvement souveraineté-association and set about uniting pro-sovereignty forces.
He achieved that goal in October 1968 when the MSA held its first (and last) national congress in Quebec City. The RN and MSA agreed to merge to form the Parti Québécois (PQ), and later that month Pierre Bourgault, leader of the RIN, dissolved his party and invited its members to join the PQ.
The Early Years of the Parti Quebecois
Jacques Parizeau joined the party on September 19, 1969, and Jérôme Proulx of the Union nationale did the same on November 11 of the same year.
In the 1970 Quebec election, the PQ elected its first seven members of the National Assembly. René Lévesque was defeated in Mont-Royal by the Liberal André Marchand.
In the 1973 election, the PQ won six seats, a net loss of one. However, its share of the popular vote had significantly increased.
A public gathering for the YES side of the 1980 Quebec referendum.
The referendum of 1980
In the 1976 Quebec election, the PQ elected 71 candidates to the general astonishment of all of Quebec and the rest of Canada. Discontent with the government of Robert Bourassa by both the English and French speaking population resulted in one of the highest voting turnouts in Quebec history. Discontented voters, including many Anglophone and Allophone voters switched their vote to the Union Nationale. As a result, the vote splitting allowed the Parti Quebecois to win a majority of the seats with only 41.4 per cent of the vote and to therefore form a government.
On August 26, 1977, the PQ passed two important laws: first, the law on the financing of political parties, which prohibits contributions by corporations and unions and set a limit on individual donations, and second, the Charter of the French Language.
On May 17, Robert Burns resigned, telling the press he was convinced that the PQ was going to lose its referendum and fail to be re-elected afterwards.
At its seventh national convention on June 1 to 3, 1979, the sovereigntists adopted their strategy for the coming referendum. The PQ then began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements.
Sovereignty-association was proposed by the Parti Quebecois government to the population of Quebec in the 1980 Quebec referendum. The proposal was rejected by 60 per cent of the Quebec electorate, the same percetage that had voted against the Parti Quebecois in the 1976 election that brought them to power.
Despite having lost the referendum, the PQ was returned to power in the 1981 Quebec election with a stronger majority than in 1976, obtaining 49.2 per cent of the vote and electing 80 candidates. However, they did not hold a referendum in their second term and put sovereignty on the back burner, concentrating on their stated goal of "good government".
René Lévesque retired in 1985 (and would later die in 1987). In the 1985 Quebec election under his successor Pierre-Marc Johnson, the PQ was defeated by the Liberals.
Repatriation, Meech, Charlottetown
The Referendum of 1995
The PQ returned to power in the 1994 Quebec election under Jacques Parizeau, this time with 44.75% of the popular vote. In the intervening years, the failures of the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord had revived support for sovereignty, which had been written off as a dead issue for much of the 1980s.
Another consequence of the failure of Meech was the formation of the Bloc Québécois (BQ) under charismatic former Conservative cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. For the first time, the PQ supported pro-sovereigntist forces running in federal elections; during his lifetime Lévesque had always opposed such a move.
The Union Populaire had nominated candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections and the Parti nationaliste du Québec had nominated candidates in the 1984 federal election. Neither of these parties enjoyed the official support of the PQ; nor did they enjoy significant public support among Quebecers.
In the 1993 Canadian election, following the collapse of the Conservatives, the BQ elected enough MPs to become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons.
now pursues the ideal of independence and interdependence like his mentor Lévesque.
Parizeau promptly called a new referendum. The 1995 referendum question differed from the 1980 question in that the negotiation of an association with Canada was now optional.
This time, the Yes camp lost in a very close vote, by less than one percent. As in the previous referendum, the English-speaking (anglophone) minority in Quebec overwhelmingly (about 90%) rejected sovereignty, and support for sovereignty was also weak among allophones in immigrant communities and first-generation descendants, while by contrast almost 60 per cent of francophones of all origins voted Yes (82 per cent of Quebecers are francophone).
In an ill-considered outburst, Premier Jacques Parizeau attributed the defeat of the resolution to money and the ethnic vote.
The PQ won re-election in the 1998 Quebec election, which was almost a "clone" of the previous 1994 election in terms of number of seats won by each side. However, public support for sovereignty remained too low for the PQ to consider holding a second referendum during their second term. Meanwhile, the federal government passed the Clarity Act to govern the wording of any future referendum questions and the conditions under which a vote for sovreignty would be recognized as legitimate. Federal liberal politicians stated that the ambiguous wording of the 1995 referendum question was the primary impetus in the bill's drafting.
In the 2003 Quebec election, the PQ lost power to the Parti libéral du Québec. However, in early 2004 the Liberal government of Jean Charest had proved to be somewhat unpopular, and that, combined with the federal Liberal Party sponsorship scandal contributed to a resurgence of the BQ. In the 2004 federal elections, the Bloc Québécois won with 54 MPs, compared to 33 previously.
While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with their referendum victories, most recognized that there are still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Bouchard & Chrétien divided.
The Clarity Act
In conformity with the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1999, the Parliament of Canada passed the Bill C-20 (also known as the Clarity Act), a law that, amongst other things, set out the conditions under which the Government of Canada would deal with a vote by any province to leave Canada. Controversially, the Act gave the people of Canada through its elected representative in the Canadian House of Commons the power to decide whether a proposed referendum question was considered clear and allowed Parliament to decide whether a clear majority has expressed itself in any referendum. It is widely considered by sovereigntists as indefensible and thus inapplicable. Indeed, a symbolic act without legal foundation called the Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State was introduced in the National Assembly of Quebec by the Parti Quebecois provincial government only two days after the Clarity Act had been introduced in the Canadian House of Commons.
Former Prime Minister Chrétien, under whom the Clarity Act was passed, has remarked that the Act is among his most significant accomplishments.
"Sovereignty-Association" is nowadays more often referred to simply as "sovereignty". However, in the 1995 Quebec referendum, which was narrowly rejected, the notion of some form of economic association with the rest of Canada was still envisaged (continuing use of the Canadian dollar, for example). It remains a part of the Parti Québécois program and is tied to national independence in the minds of most Quebecers. This part of the PQ program has always been controversial, especially since Canadian federal politicians usually refuse the concept.
In 2003, the PQ launched the Saison des idées (Season of ideas) which is a public consultation aiming to gather the opinions of Quebecers on its sovereignty project. The new program and the revised sovereignty project will be adopted at the 2005 Congress.
Quebec (brown color) in the Dominion of Canada, 1867
The issue of a sovereign Quebec's territory has been controversial, and remains one of the most passionate issues in the debate. While Quebec politicians routinely support the of Quebec, some Canadian commentators have expressed the opinion that Quebec would only be entitled to retain the territory it originally held at Canadian Confederation in 1867. Others refer to the Treaty of Paris (1763) wherein France chose to keep Guadeloupe (now a département of France) and gave the northern portion of New France to Great Britain.
The boundaries of the Province of Quebec have been altered several times since Confederation was established by British law in 1867. In 1870, Canada acquired Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company which was inhabited by the aboriginal Cree, Inuit, Atikamekw and Algonquin, Montagnais, and Naskapi. Over the next few decades, Canada transferred large portions of this territory to Quebec. In 1898, the northern boundary of Quebec was set along the eastern shore of James Bay to the mouth of the Eastmain River, north along the river, then due east to the Hamilton River and down the river to the western boundary of Labrador. In 1912, the vast territory bounded by the Eastmain River, the Labrador coast, and Hudson and Ungava Bays was transferred to Quebec, extending the northern boundary to its present location. The Cree, Montagnais, Naskapi and Inuit peoples also inhabited these lands. The Quebec Boundaries Extension Act of 1912 included several provisions including the trusteeship of Indians in the territory and management of lands reserved for their use would remain with the Government of Canada. Under the Canadian Constitution, the federal government is obligated to preserve and protect the aboriginal people of these territories.
Indian and Inuit lands in Quebec were not covered by treaty or surrender, although some aboriginal groups were granted title over small allotments of land. These natives argue that no annexation of them or their territory to an independent Quebec can take place without their consent, and that if Quebec has the right to leave Canada then the Cree people have the right to choose to keep their territory in Canada.
Prior to the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Cree held a referendum, which asked (translated from the native into English):
- Do you consent, in the event of a Yes vote in the Quebec referendum, that the Quebec government take the James Bay Cree and Cree traditional territories out of Canada?
The results were that 96% voted not to be part of a sovereign Quebec. In the same month, Inuit in the province of Quebec held a similar referendum, which asked (translated from the native into English):
- Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign?
The results were that 95% voted not to be part of a sovereign Quebec.
Quebec's independence would result in the isolation of Labrador and the Atlantic provinces into geographic exclaves of Canada. Currently connected by the the Trans Canada Highway and the transcontinental Canadian National Railway shipping routes, the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island would be cut off from the rest of Canada with the loss of their right to access these vital transportation links. Further, the St. Lawrence Seaway would fall under the territorial jurisdiction of Quebec, which subjects the shipping ports of Ontario to numerous political and physical risks through labor strikes, lax security and a host of vital economic and national security issues over which Ontario and the rest of Canada would have no say or control. As a result, some Canadian critics of the sovereignty movement have also suggested that Canada would have to keep some of its territory in Quebec in order to maintain essential connections to the Maritime Provinces and to Newfoundland and Labrador.
(Work in progress)
Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau embrace on the stage of a Yes rally.
Violence and terrorism as a tactic
While violence and terrorism are not accepted as tactics within the mainstream of the sovereignty movement, some fringe groups have used violence to achieve the aim of an independent Quebec.
The combination of independence and socialism project of the Action socialiste pour l'indépendance du Québec was a source of political ideas for the most extremist members of these groups who formed the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). While a number of the separatist groups advocated civil disobedience, the FLQ, founded in February of 1963 by three RIN members who had met each other as part of the Réseau de résistance chose terrorism in order to achieve the independence of Quebec. The three were Georges Shoeters, Raymond Villeneuve, and Gabriel Hudon. Its intellectual leaders were Charles Gagnon and Pierre Vallières. Their activities led to robberies to finance their terrorist campaign of bombings and murders, that resulted in the October Crisis of 1970.
Allies and Opponents
There is a large semantic confusion, sometimes fostered by the Parti Quebecois itself, between the terms sovereignty, separatism, independentism. These terms are sometimes used interchangingly, but PQ supporters usually prefer the term "sovereingty", considered less radical and emotional than "independentism" (preferred by hard-liners), while "separatism" is usually considered pejorative. This ambiguity is further enhanced since the majority of Quebec's media, both written (with the notable exceptions of the CHOI-FM Libertarian Quebec City radio station and the La Presse and the Montreal Gazette newspapers, sometimes support the PQ's left to center-of left politics, but not the party or its sovereignist goal. The separatist movement draws however above the Left and Right spectrum, a sizeable minority of more conservative Quebeckers supporting the PQ's political agenda because of the sovereignty issue, despite reservations about its social-democratic/socialist political agenda.
Although one cannot generalize, natural allies of sovereignty tend to be found within the Left: labour unions, the French-speaking artistic community, students (non-working members of the younger generations, as compared to Generation-Xers), the media, government employees, anti-globalization supporters and the academic political left. Opponents are often found in the economic community, ethnic minorities, the older generations, working class Generation Xers, non-French speakers ("Allophones"), Jews, French-language Protestants, Libertarians, the non-nationalist political right, and critics of keynesianism, statism and big government intervention in general.
It must be noted, however, that Quebec political standards usually range from the centre-of-left to the left compared to American or even European standards. Right and Left must thus be interpreted within the provincial context; compared to the American continuum, Liberal Party politics generally coincide with the Democrat Party while PQ politics are more in tone with the Green party: there is no mass-equivalent of American conservatism in Quebec's French political culture, due notably to strong government interventionnism and keynesianism shared by all parties since the 1960s (the so-called "Quebec Consensus" since the "Quiet Revolution" and the province's Roman Catholic and rather homogenous ethnic heritage.
There are, of course, quite a few exceptions. Notable examples include: the semi-conservative (by Quebec standards) but Nationalist Action Démocratique du Québec supporting the "Yes" side in 1995 (their stance on the issue is now vague), the Progressive-Conservative Party of Canada building links with the sovereigntists in the 1980s and well-known federalist artists Jean-Louis Roux (an actor, once destined to become the representative of Queen Elizabeth II as Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, a plan foiled by controversy) and René-Daniel Dubois (playwright and harsh critic of sovereignty, although self-proclaimed neutral).
The option fails at gathering substantial support among Anglo-Quebecers and allophones.About 60% of francophones of all ethnic origins voted "Yes" in 1995, and with the exception of some support from the Haitian, Latino, and Arabic communities, most non-francophones massively voted No (see Demolinguistics of Quebec). Consequently, some critics accuse the sovereignty movement of essentially being a chauvinistic, ethnic issue, a position refuted by the PQ who considers its project all-encompassive. Jacques Parizeau's comments after the 1995 referendum ("We lost because of money and the ethnic vote"), considered racist by most local and international commentators, gave fuel to this controversy.
Charles De Gaulle delivering the "Vive le Québec Libre" speech upon the Montreal city hall balcony.
In June 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle shouted Vive le Québec libre! during a speech from the balcony of Montreal's city hall during an official state visit as a guest of the government of Canada. Interference into the affairs of another country is unacceptable in international protocol and in contravention of territorial integrity. De Gaulle's words were also seen by most in Canada as an insult to the thousands of Canadians who died in both world wars fighting for the freedom of France and the return of Alsace and Lorraine as part of France. Prime Minister Lester Pearson cancelled the rest of the state visit and De Gaulle returned to France where his action came under severe criticism from the media.
In France today, although openness and support is found in both sides of the political spectrum, the French "right" has been warmer to sovereigntists (like President Charles De Gaulle, who shouted his support of independence to Montreal in 1967) than the French "left" (like nationalism-distrustful President François Mitterrand, who notoriously snubbed Lévesque at their first meeting in the 1970s). The French in Quebec are non- indigenous residents through settlement under the French Colonial Empire who gave away any claim in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
This is a paradoxical phenomenon, for the Parti Québécois and most sovereigntists are to the political left. French politicians are sympathetic to Quebec for cultural and historical reasons, but the secessionist movement is often negatively perceived because France was built as one indivisible republic. The idea that France is "one nation, one country" is very solidly anchored in the political culture of France (and many other countries). A lot of French political parties would be in contradiction with themselves if they officially supported Quebec nationalism, but continued to reject Corsican, Breton, and Basque nationalisms. Michel Rocard (who became Prime Minister of the French Republic) has been one of the French Socialists that broke that so-called rule the most (that of the French left being less open), maintaining a close and warm relationship with Quebec sovereigntists. These independence movements involve either detached island territories or areas that do not split the existing country into multipe pieces as proposed by Quebec sovereignty. Further, the French in Canada were occupiers and having given up the Quebec portion of the French Colonial Empire in 1763 to Britain in favour of keeping the Guadeloupe portion, France today holds onto Guadeloupe as a département. Like Quebec in Canada, Guadeloupe is treated equally to every other département in France and has full representation in the National Assembly. However, in sharp contrast to the tolerance by Canadians for the Quebec sovereigntist movement proposing to spit their country into four pieces, today, French authorities refuse to negotiate independence of any kind or allow a referendum on the question for the far away island of Guadeloupe, even though it is an occupied land of the indigenous Arawak peoples and slaves seized in Africa and brought there by France. In 1984, the Government of France outlawed Guadeloupe's Caribbean Revolutionary Alliance (ARC) who turned militant after France's absoute refusal to tolerate any suggestion of sovereignty.
Quebec Sovereignists also have relationships around the world with other Social Democrat, Civic Nationalist and/or Independentist organizations like in Catalonia or in Scotland (for example: in 2000, Alex Salmond, then leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), wrote a speech to be read to the audience of the PQ National Council in which he spoke of the PQ as brother party of the SNP). However, there is in fact no comparison between Quebec and Scotland, either in terms of geography or its indigenous peoples.